Saturday, January 25, 2014

Master of the Tale

The Love of a Good Woman
By Alice Munro, Nobel Laureate

The short story is a rather misunderstood form of literature: some would believe that it is the product of limited imagination, others would say it is born of sheer laziness, while still others would call it a poor cousin of the novel. In reality, the short story is, after poetry, the hardest form of literature, in which the writer is compelled to integrate a myriad of stories and characters into a linear tale without losing the readers' interest. The short story does not enjoy the faculties of the novel, which can idle away in a serpentine manner through plots and subplots. No wonder then that so few good writers have evolved from this difficult genre - O Henry and Guy de Maupassant on the back of my head.

And enter Alice Munro, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, which is given for a lifetime of work and not just one piece. The Love of a Good Woman is a good indicator of the sort of splendid work that she has done. Although it is a collection of eight short stories, all set in rural Canada, mostly British Columbia and Vancouver, each story is much like a novel itself. It is the first time I have seen the usage of sections to break up the story in this genre, each of them interwoven with the other so that one story works together with the other until it reaches a glorious zenith. They are not the moralistic tales for children - these are real tales of real people, people who have loved and sinned, who have killed and weeped. The stunning control that she has over the stories and characters shows a great deal of skill in her writing. A pleasure to have read this one. 

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